David Treadwell

David Treadwell

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci was illegitimate, gay, left-handed, a vegetarian and, at times, a heretic? I read that tidbit in Walter Isaacson’s impressive biography of this amazing polymath (simply titled “Leonardo da Vinci”) while taking the Downeaster from Brunswick to Boston on a recent Sunday. Small problem: my Kindle was almost out of power so I had to save the book for later.

“The National,” Amtrak’s fine onboard magazine, came to the rescue, especially the mesmerizing piece entitled, “60 Hours of Hell: The Story of the Barkley Marathons.” Only 14 runners have ever finished this 100-mile “race” through backwoods Tennessee mountains within the 60-hour time limit.

Amtrak was working on the track, so all passengers had to disembark in Haverhill and board busses for the rest of the trip. It took several minutes for my wife Tina and me to find a taxi near North Station as we’re not Uber-friendly. As it happened, the driver came from Cameroon, a happy coincidence since we’re both reading “Behold the Dreamers” (by Imbolo Mbue) for our book group. This compelling novel recounts the experiences of a young couple from Cameroon trying to make a life in New York City right before the 2008 recession. The driver happily wrote down the name of the book, noting that Mbue is a common name in Cameroon.

During the short ride, we passed by historic Boston Common. I mentioned to Tina that my son David III and I had boarded a bus on the Common for the ride to Hopkinton to start the Boston Marathon in 2008. Forty-two years earlier David had been born at the Boston Lying In Hospital, a hospital founded in 1855 to provide maternity care for indigent women. (I was an indigent graduate student at the time, so my then wife and I had chosen the hospital for it’s low cost: $300 for all prenatal care and the delivery).

The driver deposited us at the Barcelona restaurant adjacent to the Calderwood Pavillion, the play venue. We happily savored Spanish-style food, since we had just returned from Spain. The tapas were tasty: french toast with yogurt and blueberries and a side of “thickly cut bacon” (Yes!) for me; a cheese plate for her, highlighted by a slab of “drunken goat” cheese.

When we went to the theater to pick up our tickets, a woman in the lobby urged us to go upstairs to peruse the Boston Art Book Fair. We had an hour to kill so why not. The Fair included about 25 exhibitors, ranging from (very) alternative book and newsletter publishers to a calorically-enhanced woman in weird garb who helpfully explained to a passerby that she was “a professional witch.” I chatted up a young woman at one table who was giving away copies of a pamphlet “Accordion,” which featured the writings and art of people who just wanted their voices to be heard. She noted that small donations were welcome, and I, a sucker for young artists, succumbed.

With still more time to kill, we sought out an ice cream place, but found none. (Are you reading this, Gelato Fiasco?) We settled on buying a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Pistachio at a small market. Then we scarfed down the treat while sitting on a wall near the theater, no small feat given the hardness of the ice cream and the pliability of the plastic spoons.

Then we sat down to watch the world premiere of “A Guide for the Homesick,” by playwright Ken Urban. In this play, two gay men wrestle with their past, their demons and each other. At one point, Tina asked, “What do you think?” to which I whispered, “It’s different.”

And? The acting was superb and the direction was flawless, but we emerged 75 minutes later asking, “Where’s the redemption?” The two characters — each of whom played two parts — seemed self-involved, histrionic, childish.

“We should be more careful the next time we choose a play,” said Tina. Since I had been the aforementioned “we,” I said that the reviews had been very positive. I read them again on the return train trip, and they had been, indeed enticing. Ah well, maybe it was an age thing. Or maybe we needed something more upbeat.

Our spirits improved on our return trip to Brunswick as we worked on the New York Times crossword puzzle and ate yogurt-covered raisins along with rosemary and olive oil potato chips.

All in all, it had been a very good day for these two country church mice.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns at [email protected]


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